That Hideous Strength Summary

C.S. Lewis

That Hideous Strength

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That Hideous Strength Summary

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That Hideous Strength is the last installment of a trilogy written by C.S. Lewis.  The story involves a scientific institute, the National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments(N.I.C.E.), which is a front for sinister supernatural forces.

Mark Studdock has just become a Senior Fellow at Bracton College and his colleagues at Bracton are debating the sale of a portion of college land to the N.I.C.E. After the deal has gone through, a N.I.C.E. insider called Lord Feverstone suggests that there might be a position available for Mark at the Institute.

Mark’s wife Jane, a PhD student at the university, has suffered a peculiar nightmare involving a severed head. She meets Mrs. Dimble, and talks about her dreams.  Mrs. Dimble directs her to Miss Ironwood, who lives in the Manor in the nearby town of St. Anne’s. Later, an argument between Jane and Mark shows how their marriage is deteriorating.

Lord Feverstone introduces Mark to N.I.C.E., where he becomes acquainted with its top members.  Throughout his time with them, Mark can never figure out what his place in the organization is; he has no office or duties and seems to be in and out of their favor. A scientist named Bill Hingest, who is resigning from the N.I.C.E., warns Mark to get out. As he drives home that night, Hingest is mysteriously murdered.

At the same time, Jane gets the courage to visit Miss Ironwood at St. Anne’s. Miss Ironwood, who is dressed in black just as Jane had dreamed, is convinced that Jane’s dreams are visions of real events.

Later, Jane is introduced to Dr. Elwin Ransom, who is in communication with the Oyéresu (singular is Oyarsa), angelic beings who guide the planets and correspond with Greek gods and goddesses. We learn that Earth has been in quarantine: its rebellious Oyarsa (the Devil) and his demons could not travel beyond the orbit of the Moon, and the other Oyéresu could not come to Earth.

Mark is finally given work: his main duty is to write newspaper articles supporting N.I.C.E., including two for use after a riot they provoke in Edgestow, after which, N.I.C.E.’s private police take over the town. They arrest Jane, whom N.I.C.E. are interested in for her psychic abilities, which they fear will fall into their opponents’ hands. The head of N.I.C.E. police, a woman known as “Fairy” Hardcastle, starts to torture Jane but is forced to release her when rioters turn in her direction.

Mark is once again out of favor with N.I.C.E., but after a conversation with an Italian scientist named Filostrato, he is introduced to the Head of the Institute. This turns out to be a literal head—just as Jane dreamed—that of a recently guillotined French scientist,whom Filostrato mistakenly believed he had restored to life.

Based on Jane’s dreams, Ransom concludes that N.I.C.E. is looking for the body of Merlin, who is buried in Bragdon Wood, though he is not dead but in a timeless state. Jane will guide members of the group to the place she dreamed of.

The N.I.C.E. bosses now try to strengthen their hold over Mark by showing him false evidence that he murdered Bill Hingest. This backfires,however, as the moment of crisis finally gives Mark the courage to leave Belbery.  He returns to Edgestow in search of Jane, but finds their apartment empty and the town under N.I.C.E. control. Later, he meets Cecil Dimble, who offers to help him. Unfortunately Mark deliberates too long over Dimble’s proposal and he is found and arrested for Hingest’s murder.

That night, during a heavy storm, members of both St. Anne’s and N.I.C.E. are on the trail of Merlin, who has been revived. He has taken the clothes of a tramp through his powers of hypnosis and acquired a wild horse. He meets the company of St. Anne’s but rides away. Members of N.I.C.E. capture the tramp, believing him to be Merlin.

Mark, while contemplating his upcoming trial and execution, discovers he has not been arrested by the police but by N.I.C.E. security, who he assumes are the true culprits behind Hingest’s murder. Much to his surprise, he is now told that he is to be initiated into the group’s inner circle. He outwardly participates in these rituals—knowing that he will be killed otherwise—but inwardly begins to reject everything N.I.C.E. stands for.

Merlin arrives at St. Anne’s ahead of his pursuers, where he and Ransom converse. Ransom reveals that there are Satanic forces at work behind N.I.C.E. and that Merlin is to be possessed by the Oyéresu. Jane then has two mystical experiences; the first with the earth-bound counterpart of the Oyarsa of Venus, and the second with God.

Merlin, now possessed by the Oyéresu, disguises himself as a Basque priest and answers N.I.C.E.’s advertisement for an interpreter of ancient languages. He hypnotizes and interviews the tramp—whom N.I.C.E. still believes to be the real Merlin—and the two of them are brought to a banquet. There, Merlin pronounces the curse of Babel upon the assembled N.I.C.E. leaders, causing all present to speak gibberish; he also liberates many animals on which N.I.C.E. were experimenting. The bigger animals kill most of the N.I.C.E. staff.

As earthquakes destroy the building, Lord Feverstone flees to Edgestow but is killed when that too is engulfed. Merlin helps Mark escape and sends him to St. Anne’s. The Oyarsa of Venus lingers at the Manor, as Ransom is now to be transported back to that planet. When Mark arrives, a vision of Venus leads him into a bridal chamber that Jane has been preparing for him.